Missoula Fly Fishing Bitterroot River

2017 Missoula Montana Fly Fishing Guides Forecast:

It is the time of year when we are booking new trips every day and the reoccurring question is always – When is the best time to come to Missoula Montana to fly fish?

By Mid-March our snowpack numbers become reliable and give us a data point to forecast into the first three month’s of the fly fishing season. Despite the fact that we had the coldest and wettest winter in 3 decades on the valley floor, we were still way behind on our high elevation snow just three weeks ago. The last three weeks of storms thankfully got our high elevation snowpack numbers back to just above normal.

March Fly Fishing :

We have a bunch of low elevation snow that will be clearing on and off. That has lately stalled the hatches, which traditionally come in the first few days of March.  It is looking like we will get the warmer weather this week to kick off the fly fishing season’s Skwala hatch.  It will be localized at first, but if the weather stays warm that hatch spreads quickly.  With the all the low snow it should be a Spring season of elevated water levels with the Darby gauge running between 500 and 1000 cfs. That is not a bad thing, it just means we will have to do longer drifts to be able to get enough of the right water build for dry fly fishing. We had a Spring fly fishing year like this in 2012 with these snowpack numbers, and it fished well.

April Fly Fishing:

It is going to be the same story of larger than normal flows with the low snow working its way through system.  Warm days are going to move more water than the last few seasons because of what is on the ground. Hatches don’t really care about the flows and come regardless in April.  Bitterroot Skwalas will fade out by mid-month as the Hatch spreads to the Clark Fork and some year’s the Blackfoot.  How much snow moves in April will determine the size and run-off of May.  This Spring might have a few more days on the Missouri river to fly fish through a water bump in Missoula. That is one of the golden rules of the Spring – Fish don’t eat flies in rising cold water.  The tailwater of the Missouri river is the safety valve that keeps our boats fishing when Missoula moves a slug of snow. After the last 4 seasons of low water, this is looking like a normal year.

May Fly Fishing:

Last season we didn’t have run-off because of very low snowpack.  From a tactical fishing standpoint we really haven’t had a traditional blow out since 2012.  We should see one this year, but when and how big a push will determined by how much water moves in April.  If we don’t melt off much snow in April, then May will be the big push. If April is warm then May water levels will be stable.  We will be on the Missouri or sneaking around the edges of run-off.  As a note May fishing is some of my favorite of the season.  If the Clark Fork running through Missoula or the Mid Bitterroot is dirty most fly fishing anglers write off Missoula and vacate, but there very cool sneaky options that show up with no one around. You need to stay highly mobile and flexible in technique and location or just beat up a bunch of fish on the Missouri.  The Dearborn opens May 20th and should have enough water.  Hopefully this season we get flows on the Missouri over 14,000 cfs to clean the gravel bars.  That is probably a fool’s hope unless we get a bunch of rain, but I will keep hoping.


Missoula Summer Fly Fishing?

I will refrain from predicting the summer flows until it gets closer.  At this point we would assume the season will follow 2012’s water trajectory with good water all season. You would guess July and August should have cold water based on solid high elevation snowpack. Could we actually have a normal Missoula fly fishing year? 2012 followed the script almost perfectly.  Come on rivers be sedate and predictable! You know you can.


I have been out personally fishing lately on the Bitterroot. The hatch hasn’t come in yet, but we have been catching enough fish on droppers. The weather has turned out of the dark Missoula winter.

The 2017 Missoula fly fishing season has begun.


Bitterroot River Fly Fishing Panorama Photo

Missoula Fly Fishing Bitterroot River Montana